Cancer Early Detection Seminar Series - Melissa Wong, Ph.D. @ Zoom - See Description for Zoom Link
March 2, 2021 @ 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Zoom - See Description for Zoom Link
Ashley Williams

CEDSS: Disseminated cell hybrids as biomarkers for cancer detection, prognosis and treatment response

Melissa Wong, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Vice Chair
Department of Cell, Development and Cancer Biology
Program Co-Lead, Knight Cancer Institute
Oregon Health & Science University


Zoom Details
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Metastatic progression defines the final stages of tumor evolution and underlies the majority of cancer-related deaths. The heterogeneity in disseminated tumor cell populations capable of seeding and growing in distant organ sites contributes to the development of treatment resistant disease.  We recently reported the identification of a novel tumor-derived cell population, circulating hybrid cells (CHCs), harboring attributes from both macrophages and neoplastic cells, including functional characteristics important to metastatic spread. These disseminated hybrids outnumber conventionally defined circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in cancer patients. It is unknown if CHCs represent a generalized cancer mechanism for cell dissemination, or if this population is relevant to the metastatic cascade. We detect CHCs in the peripheral blood of patients with cancer in myriad disease sites encompassing epithelial and non-epithelial malignancies. Further, we demonstrate that in vivo-derived hybrid cells harbor tumor-initiating capacity in murine cancer models and that CHCs from human breast cancer patients express stem cell antigens, features consistent with the ability to seed and grow at metastatic sites. We reveal heterogeneity of CHC phenotypes reflect key tumor features, including oncogenic mutations and functional protein expression. Importantly, this novel population of disseminated neoplastic cells opens a new area in cancer biology and renewed opportunity for battling metastatic disease.



The research focus of the Wong laboratory revolves around understanding the regulatory mechanisms that control epithelial stem cell homeostasis and their expansion in developmental, homeostasis and disease contexts, including cancer. I have substantial training and experience in intestinal stem cell investigation leveraging in vivo and ex vivo modeling, as well as in myriad cutting edge technologies (i.e. cyCIF, scRNA-seq). My publication record spans my post-doctoral fellowship in Dr. Jeffrey Gordon’s laboratory at Washington University School of Medicine, to studies in my own laboratory at Oregon Health & Science University. Our research impacts the understanding of regulatory mechanisms that govern cell state in the context of the evolving tissue microenvironment and changing cell signaling landscape, in development and disease.


Our studies in stem cell regulation led to the intriguing finding that stem cells can fuse with tissue macrophages in the context of injury repair and may impact tissue regeneration. We have extended these findings to the cancer setting, where cancer-macrophage fusions are detectible in primary and metastatic tumors, and my group recently identified and characterized these cells as a novel circulating tumor cell population. Importantly, our studies in cell culture, in mice and humans provide an indepth evaluation of hybrid cells to set the foundation for continued investigations into their biology, impact on disease progression or tissue regeneration, and use as a biomarker for disease burden. Importantly, we coined the term, circulating hybrid cell (CHC) for this novel population and reported they exist at higher levels than conventionally defined circulating tumor cells in the peripheral blood of cancer patients. This work was published in 2018 and highlighted by Science Magazine as one of the top ten publications in the cancer field in the science family journals. The science proposed in this U01 application leverage hybrid cell biology to assess treatment response and resistance in breast cancer patients undergoing targeted therapy. Our proposal leverages active collaborations with Dr. Young Hwan Young’s group to synergize biology with computation, as well as a number of other valuable collaborators to ensure success of the proposed, cutting-edge science.


Hosted by: Utkan Demirci, Ph.D.
sored by: The Canary Center & the Department of Radiology 
Stanford University – School of Medicine